This article on the history of one of Wycombe’s pre-eminent furniture companies has been prepared by Robert Cartwright, the great great grandson of the founder Benjamin Cartwright. Robert writes:

It is easy to forget just how important furniture manufacturing was in High Wycombe within living memory.

The 1949 High Wycombe and District Advisory Development Plan, produced by Buckinghamshire County Council, lists 116 furniture manufacturers in the town itself alone, along with 32 engineers and 71 other manufacturing premises.

One of the furniture makers listed is B. Cartwright & Son, on the west side of Mendy Street. 

Those who knew the area in the years before 1989 will remember their buildings which also ran along the north side of the service road behind Collins House, the modern shops on Desborough Road that replaced the original shops including Goddard’s motorcycle premises.

The business was founded in 1869 by Benjamin Cartwright, a chair manufacturer who had moved to a house in Mendy Street from Prestwood in 1832.

The “Son” in the title of the business was his eldest son Charley and they traded from wooden sheds at the end of the garden of the house. 

Like most chair manufacturers at this time, the product was the Windsor chair, assembled from legs turned by bodgers in the woods surrounding High Wycombe.

From the outset, the business expanded by buying adjacent houses and extending the workshops across their gardens.

This was financed by mortgaging the properties. When the First World War ended two of Charley’s sons, Charley Victor (Vic) and Herbert Percy (Bert), joined the firm.

After the death of Charley senior in 1925, Vic and Bert embarked on a building programme, replacing the southernmost house and its garden with a three-storey brick factory building along the entire length of the property. 

In 1936, only 10 years after the first brick-built factory, several of the houses in Mendy Street were demolished and a similar three storey factory was built along the Mendy Street frontage to make an ‘L’ shape with the earlier factory.

After the Second World War the original wooden workshops were demolished and replaced with offices and stores in 1946 and 1947.

Also in 1947, the firm acquired its first lorry, having previously relied on local transport companies. 

As Vic and Bert were lifelong Wycombe Wanderers fans, the lorries were painted in light blue above dark blue. Another significant part of the vehicle’s appearance was the sedan chair which had been adopted as a logo and trademark.

In the postwar period a further generation prepared to take up the reins. Bert Cartwright’s son Charley Leslie (known as Les) returned from service with the Highland Light Infantry which included the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes, to manage production.

Vic had no sons, but his only daughter, Doris married Albert Stroud (also known by all as Bert).

Bert Stroud had been a glider pilot who had landed in the unsuccessful action to capture the bridge at Arnhem and managed to avoid capture by swimming across the Rhine. 

After the war he was an accountant with R M Blaikie in the High Street, then he left to become the commercial brains behind B Cartwright & Son from the time it was reorganised as a limited company in 1952.

In 1957, the final extension to the three storey factory buildings was made along Mendy Street to incorporate a loading bay for the delivery lorries, a new sanding shop with assembly above and the new polishing shop on the top floor.

During the war, production had been the Government-standard Utility designs, but afterwards when manufacturers were free to resume their preferred products, Cartwright’s produced fireside furniture such as three-piece suites.

Throughout the country at that time a major factor in the volume of sales was the level of purchase tax imposed by the Government at each Budget.

Whereas today the economy is given a stimulus or reined back by changes in interest rates, purchase tax was the tool used to increase or reduce demand.

An increase in the purchase tax rate in a budget would be followed by lay-offs among the workforce.

From the 1950s onwards the firm’s lorries were new custom-built Bedford pantechnicons acquired from Gregory’s, the main dealers, whose premises were the art-deco fronted buildings on London Road at the foot of Hatters Lane. Deliveries were made to all parts of England, Scotland and Wales. 

When small numbers of chairs were scheduled for delivery, carriers such as Pilot Transport or Redrup were used.

This would then require additional packing with corrugated cardboard around each item to try and prevent in-transit damage whereas on their own lorries, blankets to prevent rubbing and webbing to hold them in place sufficed.

In the early 1960s a new trade mark was registered – ‘Selectapoise’. This was to reflect the introduction of chairs with a simple system of adjusting the rake of the back.

The ability to have the choice of two or three angles of support was well received.

Later in the decade, this principle was extended to a range of chairs for the contract market.

These were sold to hospitals and nursing homes and provided a more stable source of income than the fireside market with its purchase tax-induced boom and bust. 

These then became the dominant product line, with options such as metal frames.

Higher seats and arms with grips for easy access for the infirm or elderly were introduced to access the widest possible contact market.

This continued through until Bert Stroud’s death in 1985, when his shares passed to his family.

Les Cartwright, who owned the remaining shares, carried on managing the firm alone thereafter. 

By 1989 there was insufficient confidence in the future of the firm for the shareholders to bring in a new generation, none of whom worked in the business, to manage the firm going forward.

The land was sold to the Guinness Trust for development as offices, while the goodwill and trade marks were sold to T & L Furniture of Lane End.

Les Cartwright retired. This ended 120 years of family-run chair manufacturing in Mendy Street.

Robert has started to assemble the full history of B Cartwright & Son and would be very interested to hear from any ex-employees or others with memories or artefacts that might be of use in eventually publishing a book. 

Please contact Mike Dewey in the first instance 01494 755070 or email him at